Transformers: Age of Extinction exploded into theaters Friday and hauled in the biggest summer box office of 2014 so far at over $100 million. The mythology of the Hasbro franchise is horribly twisted and confused with spin-offs, reboots, and retcons across multiple mediums since their introduction in 1984. That makes some changes for the Michael Bay-helmed movies somewhat understandable, but what did they get right and what did they get wrong?
As a child of the 80s who grew up with Transformers, I went into the latest piece of Michael Bay-hem expecting to be disappointed, and I was. It was an overlong, meandering spectacle that eventually made me numb to the action on-screen. However, I was also surprised by some of what it got right and some of what it tried to get right, but got wrong instead.
Warning: The rest of this article contains spoiler material.
Autobots – Kind of wrong
The secondary Autobot characters outside of Optimus Prime and Bumblebee have never gotten anything resembling character development in Bay’s first three Transformers films. That continues with Age of Extinction, though the John Goodman voiced Hound gets a surprising amount of dialogue even if it was mostly one-liners. Ken Watanabe seemed under-utilized as Drift and John DiMaggio’s Crosshairs was only notable for his trench coat-like appearance and bad attitude.
Where Age of Extinction goes wrong is portraying them as an assortment of thugs who are literally ready to cut each other’s throats. The Autobot faction is not always a bunch of do-gooders, but the random brawling and willingness to slash each other’s throats while Optimus passively stood by felt wrong.
Optimus Prime’s sudden ability to fly out of Earth’s atmosphere also came out of nowhere.
Galvatron – Kind of right
First, it was a joy to hear Frank Welker given the opportunity to voice Galvatron in Transformers 4. He was the original voice of Megatron and Galvatron in the 80s cartoon and returned to put his menacing touch on Megatron in the Transformers Prime CG-animated series.
As for the character of Galvatron himself, Bay and company managed to get him somewhat right as a rebirth of Megatron and the control of the drone-like Decepticons. The origin is understandably different from the Unicron origin in Transformers: The Movie, but his truck transformation is more reminiscent of Nemesis Prime and Lockdown has his canon transformation instead in Age of Extinction.
Most disappointing is how Galvatron was handled. He’s given an introduction that makes him come across as the ultimate threat but he’s more or less a secondary threat compared to Lockdown. How he will fit in with Transformers 5 is a real head-scratcher, but I’m sure they’ll find a way to shoe-horn him in.
Lockdown – Mostly right
Mark Ryan’s turn as the ruthless bounty hunter Lockdown was on the mark, minus his ability to transform into a Galvatron-like cannon. They even managed to incorporate his trademark hook hand.
Dinobots – Facepalm-level wrong but you’ll love them anyway
It’s not hard to figure out why robots that transform into dinosaurs are so appealing but the designs and complete lack of any character in Age of Extinction was appallingly bad. Swoop was bafflingly switched from a Pteranodon to a two-headed and two-tailed flying creature named Strafe. The stegosaurus Snarl was ditched for a Spinosaurus named Scorn. Grimlock (the Tyranosaurus Rex) and Slug (the Triceratops) are the only ones that came close to right but even then they were treated as nothing more than a Deus Ex Machina. They showed up in the final 30 minutes, said nothing, wreaked havoc to help save the day, and left.
The Dinobots have strong personalities throughout their various incarnations starting with Grimlock, who is constantly at odds with Optimus Prime over leadership. Bay doesn’t even give the courtesy of their names being spoken in Transformers 4.
China Geography – Bay level wrong
Remember in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen when Sam and the group of Autobots and humans walked out of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., and out into a boneyard located in the desert of Arizona? This bizarre use of geography by Michael Bay continues with Age of Extinction.
Toward the end of the film, the Autobots stolen ship that is hovering over Hong Kong is damaged and veers away from the city into a valley over a hill away from the city. That would be the Wulong Valley that is located deep in central China.
Humans – Better
Shia LaBeouf’s spastic acting in the last two Transformers films is thankfully gone in Age of Extinction. Stanley Tucci’s Joshua Joyce character is the closest we get to the randomly screaming character, but it felt toned down compared to previous films in the series.
Has Bay learned? Possibly because also missing was shots of characters in their underwear, being “leaked” on, generally acting insane or making an enormous a** of themselves. Also, there was no animal humping.
Instead, we got a father-daughter-boyfriend conflict with a secret government CIA black ops program supporting an evil profit-seeking corporation. Not exactly ground-breaking stuff but a step up over previous Transformers entries.
Of course, Wahlberg and his crew should have died about 10 times over in the movie with the way they fell and were thrown around.
The Creators – Biggest surprise
Unicron has probably been the most requested appearance for the Transformers films after the Dinobots. So, it was a little surprising that the plot revolved around “The Creators” sending Lockdown to hunt down Optimus Prime.
In the original Transformers universe, the Quintessons created the Transformer race on Cybertron millions of years ago before they rose up and drove away their masters. These were laughably freakish five-faced beings with tentacles in the original cartoons so it will be interesting to see how they are handled in Transformers 5.
[Images via Transformers: Age of Extinction, Hasbro, the original Transformers animated series]